Service provider withdraws after state cuts funds for crisis center



FAYETTEVILLE – Northwest Arkansas Crisis Stabilization Unit cannot open until a new medical service provider is found, again leaving law enforcement with little options for people you meet who have mental health issues.

The 16-bed facility is operated as an alternative to prison. Participation is voluntary for those treated, who have encountered law enforcement officials for creating unrest, trespassing or other disruption due to their conditions, officials said.

The center received 1,200 referrals in the two years it opened, and 755 of them were admitted to the facility, according to the former health care provider.

The center closed on June 30, Washington County attorney Brian Lester said.

Any new vendor would operate the center for about $ 43,000 per month less in public funding than the original contractor, Ozark Guidance, received. This equates to an almost 33% reduction in state money, from $ 133,000 per month to $ 90,000.

Even the reduction to $ 90,000 is smaller than originally anticipated. A reduction to $ 52,800 was announced in May.

The governor’s office said on Friday that the $ 90,000 figure was calculated based on what those centers are also expected to receive from other sources, including private insurance payments.

Ozark Guidance is a non-profit behavioral health company. The company is ready to cooperate fully with any new supplier, but cannot absorb a reduction of $ 43,000 per month and continue to operate the center, President Laura Tyler said Friday.

To make up for that kind of drop in revenue by billing insurers, it would take more patients who stay longer, Tyler said. The unit is expected to occupy more of its beds while providing more intensive treatment. It is not endowed, equipped or designed to do so, she said. Other facilities are designed to treat more severe cases for longer periods, she said.

“We also had other additional costs that were not anticipated,” Tyler said. Transporting the clients of the unit, for example, turned out to be a larger expense than expected.

“We’re still passionate about prison diversion, but we couldn’t make those numbers work,” she said. She commended the local law enforcement authorities and courts for their participation.

Northwest Arkansas law enforcement agencies may refer cases to the West Arkansas Counseling and Referral Center Stabilization Center in Fort Smith.

Removals from Benton or Washington counties can mean a three-hour round trip for officers involved under the best of circumstances, law enforcement officers and the director of the Fort Smith stabilization center said.

“It’s just not practical” to take people with mental health emergencies to Fort Smith from northwest Arkansas, said Jay Cantrell, deputy head of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office . The office manages the county jail.

“Even if a department has staff available to get to Fort Smith, being in the back of a police car for an hour is not going to help stabilize anyone,” Cantrell said.

A spokeswoman for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office agreed, noting that every law enforcement jurisdiction in Benton County is further from Fort Smith than agencies in Washington County.

Arkansas opened four 16-bed Crisis Stabilization Units as a pilot program until June 2021. The Sebastian County Crisis Unit opened in March 2018. The Pulaski County unit has opened in August 2018. The Northwest Arkansas unit opened in June 2019, and the Craighead Departmental Unit opened in October 2019.

The state paid the operating costs of the units until June while evaluating the effectiveness of the program.

Crisis stabilization units in Pulaski and Sebastian counties have both suffered funding cuts, but not to the extent of the Northwest Arkansas unit. Public funding for these units has been reduced from $ 133,000 per month to approximately $ 110,000.

According to the governor’s office, the funding levels for each unit were based on information about the spending and reimbursement of those units.

The Craighead County unit is still in the original two-year funding period and has therefore not experienced any cuts so far. Its level of public funding will decrease on October 31. The unit will not be able to continue operating after Oct. 31, operator Mid-South Health Systems announced on May 25.



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